Rugby players live in a bubble. To say we are removed from the reality of normal working life is an understatement, writes Duncan Casey.
We know nothing of graduate programmes, climbing the greasy corporate ladder or the grind of the daily nine-to-five. Professional rugby presents its own unique challenges and if you were to ask any of us which lifestyle we’d pick, you’d get the same answer every time.
It may not appear so but rugby players are a reasonably intelligent bunch of people. We tend to be level-headed, hard working, and disciplined. Such traits make it even more surprising that we give the fragility of our careers little or no thought at all. We go through each week in blissful ignorance, thinking it will last forever.
We believe the average career span of six years only applies to an unlucky few.
One thing that ends this self delusion is a ruptured pec muscle. That was the news that awaited when I answered the phone to get my scan results a few weeks ago. Surgery that Friday. Four months on the sideline. Lots of rugby to miss. I’ve had a few major repairs before, the most recent being a shoulder op in May of 2014. That came at the tail end of the season. The carrot of being declared fit by September meant there wasn’t much doom and gloom.
I wasn’t quite as lucky this time. The opposite in fact. November. Eight games into the season. First round of European Cup. Even writing it down makes me shake my head and swear silently.
If it had been a black and white bit of trauma it would probably be easier to take.
The fact is that I didn’t even feel it happening and thought the little pinch in my upper arm was something to do with how BJ Botha was binding in the scrum.
You go from one extreme to the other when this happens. From assuming you’ll play until you’re 35 to worrying if you’ll have a contract next year. I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been a couple of semisleepless nights in the past couple of weeks.
I’m a positive person by nature but this set of circumstances would get Gene Kelly down now and again.
Fans of South Park will be familiar with Captain Hindsight. Captain Hindsight is a super hero whose special power is arriving at the scene of a tragedy and explaining what should have been done to avoid it.
Well, Captain Hindsight has a seat at the front of my mind at the moment and he won’t stop talking. ‘You should have finished your degree earlier. You should have trained your back more and your chest less when you were 16. You should have done less bench pressing in the days before the game. You should have grounded the ball earlier and your pec wouldn’t have ruptured’.
You get the idea. I’m the kind of guy that tells other people not to dwell on things, that you can’t prevent something that’s happened already. This hasn’t now stopped me analysing past decisions myself.
It’s the future however, that really makes you paranoid.
I witnessed what my team-mate and friend Mike Sherry went through over the past couple of years. Sports-related surgeries are not straightforward. Complications happen and they can be catastrophic. Mike waited almost two years to make his return to rugby. Thankfully he has done so and has taken up where he left off, playing some excellent rugby.
The resilience he showed in the face of his ordeal is an example to professional athletes everywhere and puts my own four-month layoff into perspective. At the same time, it makes me anxious that I could have complications of my own. What if I end up being out for eight months instead of four? And if I get another bad injury next year, will that be curtains for my career?
You worry that the guy getting his chance to impress will leapfrog you in the pecking order. Niall Scannell has been knocking on the door for some time and has a similar opportunity to the one I got in 2013.
He starts against Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park this evening in the Champions Cup. He’ll be hell-bent on ensuring I don’t return to the matchday 23 and I know I’ll have a tough job doing so. Yet another thing that plays on your mind. A positive outlook means I’m well equipped to handle these fears. Being injured isn’t all negativity.
Facing a lengthy layoff gives you the opportunity to target some other areas. It gives me the chance to put a couple of kilos on each of my legs for example, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I was fit. I’m enjoying helping out with analysis, which keeps me involved in the playing environment and broadens my awareness of the game.
I also have the chance to work hard on my life outside of rugby. This gives me a great window to research and write more articles. It allows me to have a more hands-on involvement with the Mid-West Simon Community than I have been able for in recent times. A couple of planned weekends in Iceland and Finland in the new year will be a nice distraction as well.
The most beneficial thing about all this, however, is the kick up the arse it has given me. The bubble will burst — you’d better make sure you’re ready when it does.